Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning


Crucial Conversations Skill Summary: Master My Stories

What Does it Mean to “Master My Stories?”

A “story” is our rationale for what’s going on and our own interpretation of facts. To Master My Stories means to take control of our stories so they don’t take control of us. It is the key to preventing strong emotions from taking control of a Crucial Conversation.

The Path to Action Model demonstrates the steps we take in telling ourselves these stories.

Crucial Conversations Master My Stories Path to Action chart

For example, here’s what you see and hear. You’re working on a report and your manager checks up on you three times in one hour, offering suggestions.

What’s the story we tell ourselves? Perhaps it might be “My manager is questioning my capabilities.” Or maybe, “my manager doesn’t trust me to complete this task on my own.”

How would this make you feel? Naturally, this story might generate feelings of being hurt or defensive, which could then lead to frustration or anger.

So how does this affect your actions? You might hold a grudge and disregard your manager’s suggestions.

However, when using your other Crucial Conversations skills, you find that your manager is checking in with you because they have a lot of experience building this type of report and just wanted to be helpful. No questioning of capabilities, no lack of trust, just one colleague helping another. In other words, the story you told yourself was completely false.

We all have the tendency to tell ourselves stories. We try to figure out a motive, we judge, and those judgments lead to feelings that drive our actions. We sometimes do all of this so quickly that we don’t even realize it, and in doing so we become our own worst enemy.

Three Clever Stories We Tell Ourselves

Have you ever told a story and left out key details to the listeners? We do this because clever stories may get us off the hook, or because we want to be seen as the hero or the victim. Clever stories conveniently leave out pertinent information and make the story suit our needs.

We also tell clever stories to ourselves in our path to action, and these There are three clever stories we tell ourselves to help us feel good about doing things that ruin our relationships and results. The best way you can combat these stories is to tell the rest of the story.

We tend to believe the stories we tell ourselves are facts

1. Victim Stories: “It’s not my fault.”

We tell ourselves we are not contributing to the problem.

For example, you forget to complete and important task for the boss who just returned from a business trip and react by saying, “I didn’t have the help or time that I needed to complete the project on time.” You are telling yourself that you are being punished for the company’s lack of resources and talent.

Tell the Rest of the Story: Turn yourself from a victim into a contributor. Ask yourself: What am I pretending not to notice about my role in the problem?

2. Villain Stories: “It’s your fault.”

These stories overemphasize others’ nasty qualities or perceived incompetence and are often accompanied with labeling.

For example, we may find ourselves saying, “Of course I yelled at him. Didn’t you see what he did? He deserved it.” When we turn human beings into villains, we feel justified in insulting or abusing them.

Tell the Rest of the Story: Turn others from villains into humans. Ask yourself: Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person do this?

3. Helpless Stories: “There’s nothing I can do.”

Here we convince ourselves that there are no healthy options for taking action and we can’t change our situation.

For example, you find yourself talking with a colleague about an idea for a new operations process but say, “If I presented this to the leaders they would probably just get defensive like they always do—I’m not going to say anything!” Or on the flip side, “If I didn’t yell, then the work wouldn’t get done. What choice do I have!”

Tell the Rest of the Story: Turn yourself from helpless to able. Ask yourself: “What should I do right now to move toward what I really want?”

Challenging our stories with questions allows us to uncover important information so that our stories better represent reality, and this helps us engage in better dialogue when we find ourselves in a Crucial Conversation.

Based on decades of research and the New York Times bestseller.

Crucial Conversations Book Cover
 Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, 3rd Edition

We invite you to learn more about Master My Stories and other Crucial Conversations dialogue skills to help communicate better when it matters most. Download your course overview or watch a master trainer preview of the course to see how you can bring interactive training to your organization in-person, virtually, or on-demand.

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